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NZ and Australian Govts seek two-way street on cyber threats

FEATURE: NZ Security, October 2015

It’s been about two months since the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) released its first ever unclassified cyber security threat report. Since its inception, the ACSC has been on the frontline of Australian government efforts to work together with industry to raise awareness and introduce better practices in relation to cyber security preparedness.

Increasing cooperation between government and businesses in relation to cyber security is a growing trend on both sides of the Tasman, with both Canberra and Wellington having come to the realisation that the national security chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and that the weakest link could end up being an SME located far beyond the firewalls of the government’s intelligence community.

Once renown for being secretive gatekeepers of information, actors within the intelligence community, such as the ACSC, are now being used to proactively inform industry about emerging threats. “Ensuring a resilient, cyber secure Australia”, states the ACSC report, “requires the expertise and collective capabilities of the ACSC, government and industry network owners, operators and users, academia and our international partners”.

But key to this new status quo is a growing government expectation that industry will take on a greater share of the load... the challenge of cyber security is one that government alone cannot adequately address. It requires, states the report, “a partnership between government and the private sector, with organisations and their users taking greater responsibility for the security of their networks and information”. 

New ACSC Coordinator, Clive Lines said that the Australian Cyber Security Centre Threat Report 2015 clearly demonstrates that the cyber threat to Australian organisations is undeniable, unrelenting and continues to grow. “The report,” said Mr Lines, “provides an overarching view of cyber adversaries, what they want, and how they go about getting it from an ACSC perspective.”

The ACSC intends for the report to be a resource for organisations to start an informed conversation about protecting their vital information. “If every Australian organisation read this report and acted to improve their security posture, we would see a far more informed and secure Australian internet presence,” commented Mr Lines.

The report is available on the ACSC website

The cyber security outook, according to the report, is one where cyber attackers and defenders will both continue to face challenges and opportunities: “Robust cyber defences will continue to allow a high degree of confidence in network and information security. However, the ability of cyber adversaries to create, identify and exploit vulnerabilities in networks and ICT-enabled capabilities will continue to provide opportunities to take advantage of networks”.

The report also attempts to provide a forecast of the cyber threat trends for 2015 and beyond, with the caveat that “the ACSC is still developing a detailed understanding of the full spectrum of threats to Australian networks”. The ACSC predicts that: 

  • The number of state and cyber criminals with capability will increase. Due to the limited number of quality software developers, cybercrime- as-a-service is likely to increase, reducing the barriers for entry for cybercriminals.
  • The sophistication of the current cyber adversaries will increase, making detection and response more difficult. Spear phishing will continue to be popular with adversaries, and the use of watering-hole techniques will increase. Ransomware will continue to be prominent.
  • There will be an increase in the number of cyber adversaries with a destructive capability and, possibly, the number of incidents with a destructive element. 
  • There will be an increase in electronic graffiti, such as web defacements and social media hijacking, which is designed to grab a headline.

For New Zealand businesses, a good place to start becoming part of the cyber security solution is the Connect Smart website, Connect Smart is led by the government’s National Cyber Policy Office (NCPO) within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, in partnership with a range of government agencies, non- government organisations, and the private sector. 

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